Is my tip allowed to be about baking since my life pseudo-revolves around baking? The operative word here being pseudo. Well, I suppose since it is my tip, I can do what I want! Maniacal laugh. (The Muppets anyone?)
I am going to get to the exact tip in a minute, but here is just a bit of encouragement. You can do it.
A lot of people I meet don't bake, not because they cannot, but because they are scared to try and fail. I have good news for you - a lot of times when you fail, the result is still tasty. So focus at first on making it taste good and then on making it pretty (bonus tip: if the batter tastes good then the end product probably will too - gives you an excuse to eat your batter too).
My tip today is about egg whites. I want to tell you how to whip up some stiff egg whites to your satisfaction and delight. The good news is that a lot of this you can also use for whipping cream. They are quite similar, although whipping cream is a bit more forgiving.
BIG TIP: Lemon Juice
Here it is! Gasp! So the deal is that if there is any sort of fat on your beaters or your bowl, the whipped eggs whites just aren't going to happen. Put some lemon juice onto a paper town and wipe down all of your implements before you use them. This will ensure that you have the right base to begin your process.
1. When you divide the yolk from the white, it's okay to sacrifice a small bit of white to ensure that you do not get any yolk into the whites. If any yolk gets in it, you are done. You must start over, they will not beat up.
2. If the entire yolk falls into the eggs whites unbroken, you can fish it out. Carefully. If it breaks, well refer back to number 1.
3. Many people say that letting your whites come up to room temperature makes them whip better. They should still whip either way, but it is a bit faster if they are room temperature. I usually take them out of the fridge and let them sit for 30 minutes if I have the time. (This is a great reason to read through a recipe all the way through before starting it because you could do the egg whites first and then they would be warmer by the time you got to the beating part) Do Not microwave them to achieve a warmer temperature. They will cook.
4. Use a hand mixer with the two whisks to whip your egg whites. Julia Childs told me to do this and she is SO right. Maybe your big mixer is more awesome than mine, but my stand mixer often cannot get to the bottom to get all of the eggs whites whipped to the same consistency at the same time.
5. Turn the mixer up high. Put the mixer in the egg whites and gradually bring it up to its highest speed. If you try to beat these things at speed 1, you might as well do it by hand. Slow.
6. If you have been whipping the darn things for over 5 minutes with no change, they are dead. It might take a while (depending on how many egg whites you are whipping up) to get from soft peaks to stiff peaks, but getting to soft peaks is relatively easy.
7. Stages of whites - saucy -> bubbly/frothy --> realllly bubbly --> soft peaks (like melted whipped cream) --> stiff peaks (like actual whipped cream)
8. While you do not want to over-whip your egg whites (they will deflate), I have found a decently large margin of error. If you pull your beater out of the egg whites and the whites left on the beater do not wilt at all, it is a stiff peak. Or you can make a peak with the beater in the egg whites to test it. Another, in my opinion easier, test is to tilt the bowl over. If it starts to run out, it is not as stiff as it could be. This is not to say that it won't work before that point, but that is when you have it the stiffest spot. After that it will start looking like butter, in a bad way.
9. Your whisk should make lines in the egg whites when they are in the soft to stiff peak stage, and I always think it looks like delicious marshmallow cream. Ignore the urge to taste it.
10. A copper bowl works best, but let's be honest... no. So some people add a dash of cream of tarter or 1/8 tsp of lemon juice to the mixture (at the frothy stage) to make it fluffier. I do not find this necessary, but if you are nervous it doesn't hurt. Do not, however, use an aluminum or wooden bowl. Just don't.
11. If you have done this before and you are doing it a second time (or a first time really) in a situation where you add sugar, the stages will look different. The stiff peak stage will not be as stiff. Have no fear, this is normal and totally fine. Don't dump your bowl over to test it, just go for a non-wilting peak.
12. Use the whipped egg whites immediately.
Enjoy! Happy Baking!